The sincerity of mankind when at its most pure can release torrents of distress. Whereas the selfishness of mankind at times of distress promotes an inward and destructive look. Some things are gradual…
Life is often better lived in the state of gradual growth, a motor function for necessity and sustenance. Ekca Liena’s drone compositions maintain graduals of sincerity and introspection at the same time. “Downer Supine”, the last release I reviewed from the producer (Daniel W J Mackenzie) emblazoned its hearty, throaty message like cough syrup passing down the gullet. It was fluid yet contained inner debris that solidified through a type of osmosis between timbre and texture. The passing movements (in three) created a story not atypical of most ambient/drone — like Talvihorros’ “Descent Into Delta”, there was actually a concept to the track sequence, even if both were simply down/up exercises in tension/release.
So “Graduals” comes most anticipated personally. Upon putting it on the player the length is noticeably larger than “Downer Supine”: 60 minutes. MacKenzie released works of this duration in the past all in one go, and with this format the stage is set to make a bigger statement. Meanwhile the album title “Graduals” is in sympathy with the “grower” music type Ekca Liena is often associated with. It is the official sequel to “Slow Music For Rapid Eye Movement”, the album that really put Mackenzie on the ambient compass among reviewers.
The opening of “Out Fir” sounds like rotor blades synthesised; deep electric piano keys and cinematic strings strike the listener. It’s a spacious composition, with the decay of each note shrouded by reverb and the well-like underpinning of the string chord. Harpsichord hues and electronic soundscapes then create an overcast scene, perfectly setting up the mood of the overall piece in 6 minutes. “Mattie Devore”, meanwhile, is one of three tracks on the release with abstract, personal titles, yet it transmits an otherworldly ghostliness through its shimmering drone.
A pattern can be seen on “Graduals” that complements the overarching theme — more gradual transitions and longer lengths means less of a higgledy-piggledy tonal hotchpotch in the tracks. There’s very little uncomfortable dissonance here. “Summoning Dust” transfuses the bloodline of waist deep drone that David Tagg plumbed on “Waist Deep Seas Of Milk”, though in general the mood is darker than Tagg.
“Free Precipitation” sees a condensing of the drone into 4/4 creaky pulses combined with electric guitar static. There is a definite sense of progression through melody, and an absorbing suspense that feels like the build to something great. “Fields Forever” blends BOC-style ambient synths in chord waves that ebb and flow like a spirit mix. Closer “Ky Ra” is a spellbinding decomposition of serious drone as an apothesis device. The dramatic ambience sounds natural but there is something menacingly machine-like about its construction.
This is a special record from Mackenzie, a somnambulating wraith that pokes at the eerie corners of dark ambient but never quite reaches horror status. It is beautiful darkness, like a shawl over a hospital patient. And there is something happy about its end. Not because the sounds have ended momentarily, but because a gradual peace has been reached. A sterling LP.